Hopes rise for disease-free world by 2100

Viral: Around 37 million people are infected with HIV globally.

A British man has become the second person in the world to be cleared of HIV. Not long ago this killer virus was incurable. How long before disease itself becomes a thing of the past?

“There is no virus there that we can measure. We can’t detect anything.” This was the outcome Professor Ravindra Gupta could scarcely dare to hope for.

His patient, a man in London, has become the second person ever to have been “functionally cured” of the HIV virus after receiving a stem cell transplant.

The man was being treated for cancer in 2016 when doctors decided to try the radical treatment. He underwent an aggressive course of chemotherapy that wiped out his immune system, which was then replaced with cells from a healthy donor.

In this case, the donor also carried a rare mutation that made them immune to the HIV virus. Almost three years later, the HIV virus is “undetectable”.

Is this a miracle cure? Gupta has reservations.

He says the treatment is too risky to use in patients who are otherwise well.

In 2008, the gene therapy was first used successfully on a patient named Timothy Brown, who was also suffering from cancer, in Berlin. He is still HIV-free.

However, in eight other cases where it was tried, the patients died of complications from the transplant or cancer relapses.

Nevertheless, “we have shown that the Berlin patient was not an anomaly,” said Gupta.

An apple a day

Can we cure all diseases by 2100? As Zuckerberg says, medicine has been a modern science for barely more than 100 years. In that time, we have eradicated smallpox and polio, discovered antibiotics, and made huge advances in cancer diagnosis and treatment. Will our progress continue to speed up?

Or will we face new challenges? Antibiotic-resistant superbugs pose a growing threat. Even if science does succeed, will everyone have access to the cures? Despite medication to manage HIV being widely available in wealthy Western nations, 940,000 died of the disease worldwide in 2017.

You Decide

  1. Will we ever wipe out all disease?

Activities

  1. HIV is no longer the deadly disease it once was, thanks to modern medicine. Create a leaflet explaining what HIV is, facts about the disease and the effects of today’s treatments.

Some People Say...

“Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always.”

Hippocrates

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The London patient underwent the stem cell transplant in May 2016 and came off antiretroviral drugs in September 2017. Since then, he has tested negative for HIV.
What do we not know?
Whether we will succeed in finding cures for most diseases by 2100. According to Francis S. Collins, “it’s a bold audacious goal, but I like audacious goals”.

Word Watch

Stem cell
A cell with the special ability to turn into different types of specialised cells in the body.
Chemotherapy
A treatment used to treat cancer which targets cells in the body that grow quickly. It can have severe side effects as it affects the entire body.
Immune
In rare cases, some people are born immune to HIV because they have two mutated copies of the CCR5 receptor.
Gene therapy
An experimental technique that uses genes to prevent or treat disease.